Observations And Standard Field Sobriety Tests

Whether you have seen it in real life or in a television show, field sobriety tests often represent your first encounter with police looking to find signs of impairment behind the wheel.

The basic purpose behind field sobriety tests is simple- to determine whether a driver is impaired by testing his or her coordination. In doing so, the police are looking for any sign of intoxication (or other impairments such as drugs or prescription medication) to provide the necessary "reasonable and articulable suspicion" to pursue further (and much more invasive) testing, such as chemical and blood tests. In addition to field sobriety tests, police also take down their own observation evidence which includes everything from how you were driving, speech, smell, eyes, hand movements, admissions, and your demeanor. Field sobriety tests and police observations are extremely subjective and given the hectic nature of taking these tests on the side of a busy road, it is easy to see how even a completely sober person could fail a test! The reality is that the police pull you over with the mindset to rule out or confirm that you are driving under the influence. In most instances, the officer uses the SFST tests as a way to confirm what they already think, and not as a way to disprove what they think.

The most basic types in the battery of New Jersey field sobriety tests are:

  1. The Eye Test or HGN: The Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus test. Often the first test performed, this test checks whether the driver suspected of driving while impaired is able to follow an object with their eyes. This test is not admissible to convict you for NJ DWI, but can be utilized to support the probable cause to arrest you.
  1. The One-Leg Stand: This New Jersey DWI test checks your ability to stand on one leg while counting from "1 1 thousand to 30 1 thousand". Of course, the police assume you can stand on one leg sober-something that is simply not true for many people. In addition to standing on one leg, this test is also designed to check your ability to do multiple tasks at once, such as counting.
  2. The Walk and Turn Test: The walk and turn test has the individual put one foot in front of another, walk nine steps heel to toe, pivot on 1 foot, turn around and then do it all over again. Ability to follow instructions and coordination are the two things police officers are looking for in this test.

In addition to the more standard tests listed above, the New Jersey police are also within their right to perform non-standard tests to add to their initial observations on your level of impairment. These tests include finger dexterity, and reciting the alphabet without singing, counting. New Jersey police officers are supposed to administer a field sobriety test in a standard manner, but as you can see, it is easy for the determinations and the administration to be affected by road conditions, weather, lighting, age, and pre-existing medical issues. The good news for you is that there is a lot of room to contest the reliability of any "failed" field sobriety test. Working with an experienced New Jersey DWI attorney can help you assert challenges to your field sobriety tests as well as other issues with your charge.

The Law Offices of Thomas Carroll Blauvelt

As a former DWI prosecutor and DWI public defender, I know both sides of the law and all the relevant defenses in your case. I have successfully had DWI cases dismissed based on SFST defenses. I have the experience you want on your side! If you failed your field sobriety test or refused to take it, let me handle all the charges you are now facing. Give me a call today. I look forward to speaking with you!